Cursed Sports Cities in America: Twin Cities

Minnesota is known for its cold weather in what feels like from October through early May.  However, its sports teams have had a long cold streak and had numerous heart-breaking moments in most of their sports teams.  Coupled in with the fact they lost a team, had another be constantly talked about moving, and a third team nearly fold, fans in Minnesota really believe they are a snakebit city.  And you know what?  There may be onto something.

The last world championship won by the Twin Cities was in 1991 when the Twins done it.  Of course, some people poo-poo on that given that the Twins were playing in a loudhouse in the Metrodome and at times some accused Minnesota in pumping more sound, but I highly doubt it.  The problem is, 91 and 1987 are the only years Minnesota has tasted glory in the modern times.  The Vikings have enough heartbreak for the city alone all throughout their times.  The Timberwolves have been predominantly irrelevant in the NBA and the North Stars split for Dallas after 1993, but in 2000, the city landed the Wild, who have generated moderate success, but nothing in the way of Stanley Cups or really coming close.

Let’s look closer.

Vikings Eagles Football

MINNEAPOLIS: MINNESOTA TWINS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, MINNESOTA WILD, MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (PREVIOUS)

RESUME: 2 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (TWINS, 1987, 1991), 4 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES (VIKINGS-1969, 1973, 1974, 1976), 1 STANLEY CUP APPEARANCE (NORTH STARS-1991); CHAMPIONSHIP DROUGHT OF 27 YEARS

Minnesota

MINNESOTA TWINS: The Twins are definitely the successful Minnesota franchise in this time period, though people knock the Twins two world championships because of holding homefield advantage in all of the series (though they were 13 back of their ALCS counterpart Detroit and 10 back of their World Series foe St. Louis) and underhand tactics notably by 1st baseman Kent Hrbek in 1991 and rumors of putting the fans on inside the dome for the visiting team while the home team had it off would have given them more of a homefield advantage.  However, unless you’re in those towns, you don’t remember any of that.  Just the end result.

After the Twins won in 1991, they remained competitive in 1992, but fell backwards starting in 1993, as the economics in baseball were changing.  Minnesota, due to revenue and attendance issues, wouldn’t be able to keep their players around for any long period of time and they would fall further and further in baseball’s cellar for really 8 years.  Keeping the likes of Scott Erickson and Chuck Knoblauch was not really an option.

However, the Twins pulled it around with a good farm system and things were looking more on the upswing starting in 2001.  However, as baseball was having financial problems (as was the nation) after the 2001 season there was talk of contraction.  It would have eliminated the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins as the teams were not drawing well and losing a wide range of money.

However, Minnesota did not contract as the court forced the Twins to play out their lease at the Metrodome.  Carl Pohlad tried to relocate the Twins after as he pushed the city into a deal for a new ballpark.  He would get it later on by 2010.

The on-field product grew for Minnesota as the Twins won the AL Central four out of five seasons from 2002-2006 despite being a small-market team.  They had plenty of home grown products that really made a major impact such as Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer.  However, Minnesota failed to win the ALDS three of those four seasons, two of which was to the big market Yankee teams.  Of course as Minnesota remained a small market, they would be unable to keep their stars around.  Hunter was the first to go.  Santana left right after. Minnesota kept the M & M boys of Mauer and Morneau after the Twins left the Metrodome in 2009 for new Target Field.  The Twins offense sputtered in the new park as the the dimensions didn’t favor the left-handed hitters as much.  Minnesota fell down fast after the 2010 season wouldn’t again be competitive until 2015 when the farm replenished.  Even now, the Twins struggle to remain a consistent contending franchise and the other thing of all the argument of Minnesota needing a new park to compete, well, that hasn’t really been the case.

CURSED MOVE: Releasing David Ortiz after the 2002 season.  Minnesota, still trying to pinch pennies and having Carl Pohlad say that the team can’t afford players and such, released Ortiz who was due for a raise of $2 million after the 2002 season.  Minnesota said they couldn’t afford him so the Twins let him walk.  We know the rest of the story with Ortiz who is pretty much Boston’s god for giving them 3 world championships in 04, 07, 13.  I honestly think they could have kept Ortiz and Pohlad was just using it as a ploy.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I can’t think of one for the Twins in all honesty.  I have to look at the 2004 Twins team actually and their ALDS series agianst the Yankees.  They beat New York in the Bronx in Game 1 and lost in extras in Game 2 after Joe Nathan couldn’t close it out.  They lost in the Metrodome in Game 3, and blew a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning after Santana spotted them a 4 run lead.  I think the game-tying 3-run HR by Ruben Sierra sticks out and it just seemed like regardless of whatever the Twins did, it would always not be enough.  And it has shown.  Since that series, Minnesota is 0-7 in postseason play and their albatross is the New York Yankees.

CURSED RATING: 2/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED): If Minnesota was really cursed here, the Twins would have been gone after the 2001 season.  But the playoff failures especially to the Yankees stung.

Minnesota

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Fran Tarkenton, Purple People Eaters, etc. dominating the NFC in the 70’s.  And 4 Super Bowl appearances.  And no Super Bowl wins.  So that’s the first black eye.  As the 70’s turned to the 80’s, the Vikings fell backwards until the late part of the decade.  When the 90’s arrived the Vikings returned to being a threat in the NFC Central and an offensive power with the likes of Anthony Carter, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, and Jake Reed with Warren Moon at QB.  Minnesota would make the playoffs in seven of eight seasons, but the first four years the Vikes went one and done including having two years of a homefield advantage.

In 1998 Minnesota struck gold by drafting wide receiver Randy Moss in the first round. To go along with Carter and Reed, the Vikings added another massive dimension to the offensive attack and terrorized defenses in the 1998 season.  They also added a gem in the rough with Randall Cunningham at quarterback and was considered an MVP candidate for the season.  The Vikings went 15-1 and were all but a lock for not just their first Super Bowl appearance since 1976, but their first ever Super Bowl championship as nobody really came close to beating them.  The Vikings went against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game that year and almost ran the Falcons out of the door early, but a turnover right before halftime changed the feel of a blowout.  And with a late 7-point lead for the Vikings, their reliable kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal in 2 years, missed a relatively easy field goal from 38 yards.  Atlanta drove down the field right after and the Falcons tied the game with 57 seconds left, thus sucking all the life out of the Minnesota fans.  After couple of possession switches, the Falcons drove down the field to kick the game-winning FG in overtime, ending Minnesota’s dream season.

The Vikings returned to the playoffs in 1999, but not having the same vibe as the year before.  Cunningham was hurt and the Vikings brought in Jeff George, who maintained success for the team, but after a 1st round win over Dallas, the Vikings ran through a buzzsaw in the Rams who had a stronger offense than Minnesota.  Minnesota lost 49-37 to the future Super Bowl champion Rams.

The Vikings put in Daunte Culpepper to run things at quarterback to give a strong, physical QB and relatively a mobile guy.  Culpepper had an MVP caliber season and the Vikings started 7-0.  However, Minnesota slipped up near the end, losing 4 of 5 and losing a chance of homefield throughout the playoffs.  But they rebounded in the playoffs, crushing New Orleans but they then get obliterated by the Giants in the NFC Championship game 41-0.  After the season, tragedy occurred as their All-Pro offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke and left a huge void on the field and in the locker room.  Minnesota fell back badly in 2001 while Culpepper’s stock dipped.  Another year of struggles occurred in 2002 for the Vikings.

ear, but lost 7 of their final 10, including the last game of the season where they went to lowly 3-12 Arizona and blew a 17-6 lead with under 7 minutes left.  The game ended with a Nate Poole touchdown reception from Josh McCown (yes, THAT Josh McCown who is still ticking in the NFL).  Minnesota’s offense remained stout in 2004, but the defense was giving up a lot of points as they went 8-8 but won a playoff spot and a Wild Card game before losing to eventual NFC champion Eagles.  After the season, the Vikings traded Moss, who was becoming unhappy with things, to Oakland.

Culpepper’s days were done after the 2005 season as he was injured after the Vikings Week 7 loss to Carolina and were 2-5.  Brad Johnson took over and the Vikings turned things around and pushed the Vikes to a 9-7 record.  But the season was marred by a scandal on a boat where Vikings players flew in prostitutes to perform graphic acts on the players.  It pretty much ended Mike Tice’s tenure in Minnesota as it pretty much was on his watch.

The Vikings got new ownership with Zigi Wilf taking over in 2006.  They also traded Culpepper to Miami as he was unhappy with how things went in his final year with the Vikings as they were committed to Brad Johnson.  Minnesota started out hot (again), in 2006, but fell badly to go to 6-10.  However, one bright spot of the outcome was the Vikings drafted a running back from Oklahoma in Adrian Peterson.  The landscape for Minnesota changed with Peterson.  After one season at 8-8, the Vikings made the playoffs in 2008, despite the struggles at quarterback from Tarvaris Jackson who replaced an injured Gus Frerotte late in the season.  Minnesota lost in the Wild Card round to Philadelphia, at home.

In 2009, the Vikings made the biggest of splashes, getting Brett Favre, who un-retired for a second time.  Favre’s wish to play football and his desire to stick it to his former Packers drove Minnesota to the top of the NFL that year and had an excellent offense to go with a solid defense.  Minnesota went 12-4 thanks to Favre’s MVP-caliber play and got a first round bye.  They waxed Dallas in the Divisional round, but had to go to New Orleans.  The game was back-and-forth all the way (though Minnesota dominated all the stats, but committed 4 turnovers), but Minnesota ended up with the ball late in the 4th and were driving.  Favre, who was showing a limp from a questionable hit on a Saints player (see BountyGate), had a chance to give the ever-reliable Ryan Longwell to kick a field goal in his range.  But an inexplicable 12-men penalty knocked the Vikings back to the Saints 38, and then Favre rolled out to his right, and flung it across his body to the other side of the field, where it was easily picked off by Tracy Porter with 19 seconds left.  Many questioned Favre’s play as it was an ultimate no-no for any QB throwing it across his body like that AND Favre had a lot of field to work with that could have netted those yards lost and maybe some more despite the leg injury.  It was probably the closest chance at Minnesota to get back to the Super Bowl, moreso than the 1998 year.

2010 was an epic disaster for Minnesota, Favre’s injuries finally came up on him as well as the players were tired of “will he or won’t he” return before the season.  It also seemed like Favre wasn’t really into it like the 2009 season.  The Vikings went 6-10 and dead last in the division despite Minnesota bringing back Randy Moss.  However, the reunion was short as Moss ripped coach Brad Childress after 4 games into his return and Childress waived Moss right after.  And he was fired after Favre’s team and hated rival Green Bay thumped the Vikings in the Metrodome.  As for the Metrodome, late in the year, the roof tore off the place and the Vikings had to move their home game to Detroit to play the Giants and then they came back to play their home finale at the Golden Gophers stadium against Chicago.  Worse, their rival Packers won the Super Bowl that same season.

After an abysmal 2011 season where Peterson was injured early on, the Vikings recovered in 2012, winning a playoff spot on the final day of the year as Adrian Peterson came back and hit the 2,000 yard rushing milestone against Green Bay.  However, in the playoffs the Vikings lost to their rivals a week after in Green Bay.

However, it was a short-lived run as Minnesota in 2013 fell backwards with poor play and 2014 wasn’t much better as Peterson only played one game with suspension due to child abuse.  Minnesota came back in 2015 winning the North at 11-5 with new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to go with a strong defense and Peterson played all 16 games.  Their first round match-up was against Seattle at the Golden Gophers stadium, which was outdoors.  The temperature was -6 degrees and the wind chill made it -25.  By all accounts, Minnesota outplayed the Seahawks for the first three quarters on 3 field goals by Blair Walsh, but Seattle was able to put 10 points up in the 4th.  Minnesota drove the field late and with 26 seconds on Seattle’s 9, Walsh missed a chip shot by a wide margin giving the Vikings another playoff nightmare loss.

In the off-season Bridgewater was lost for the whole year as he tore pretty much everything in his knee.  The Vikings opted to trade their first round pick to Philadelphia before the season started to get Sam Bradford.  And again, as like other years, Minnesota started off red hot in 2016, going 5-0 to christen their new US Bank Stadium as Bradford held his own, completing 70% of his passes and having 20 TD’s to only 5 INT’s.  But it fell apart as the Vikings lost 8 of their final 11.

Minnesota rolled last year, going 13-3 with a physical defense and quality play from their quarterbacks, first Bradford, and then Case Keenum.  They netted a first round bye and faced an old playoff foe with the Saints.  The Vikings jumped on New Orleans early, but the 4th quarter they were starting to get gashed by Brees & Co.  After back-and-forth scores, the Saints took a 24-23 lead with over 40 seconds left.  Another heartbreak was avoided by a Keenum pass to Stefon Diggs for 61 yards to end it with no time left to avoid one more heartbreaking moment for Minnesota fans.  Many felt it was the turning point as despite going on the road to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship they would have the momentum and the Eagles were without their starting QB Carson Wentz.

And……………nope.  Philadelphia did anything and everything they wanted to on the Vikings en route to a 38-7 blowout, thus keeping Minnesota as quite possibly the most cursed franchise in the NFL.

CURSED MOVE:  I didn’t mention it with the late 80’s, but the Vikings traded 5 players to get Herschel Walker from Dallas, plus 3 draft picks, plus 5 conditional draft picks if Dallas kept the players in the deal, to which the Cowboys did.  Dallas in essence got Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, and Darren Woodson.  All of them played huge roles on Dallas’s dominance in the 90’s.  Now, Dallas technically made other trades to move up to get them, but obviously they wouldn’t have gotten those guys had it not been for the Walker trade.  Walker at the time was one of the best running backs around, but he didn’t gain 1,000 yards in his time at Minnesota and while never a flop, never lived up to that hope he would be the guy to get the Vikings over the hump.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  I will lean towards the Gary Anderson field goal miss before I go with the Favre interception in the NFC Championship games.  Anderson was money all year.  The Vikings were money on offense all year.  They had solid guys on defense that year too.  I think I lean more towards this game was that the Vikings fans were already plotting their Super Bowl victory parade even before the NFC Championship, thinking they’d stomp the Falcons and then beat either the Jets or Broncos with ease.  And rumors of Vikings owner Red McCombs showing off the Super Bowl champion Vikings t-shirts were going around inside the Metrodome.  How true that was, I have no idea.  And according to Falcon fans who made the trek up there, when Anderson went out to kick and give the Vikings a 10-point lead late in that game, they were boasting that it was over and were already celebrating.  Then, “no good.”  The air inside was sucked out.  And the rest they say is history.

CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED):  I can’t think of another team in the NFL that has come so close so many times and have it ruined in some manner like the Vikings have.

Minnesota.jpg

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (0 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS)

I REALLY should put the Lakers here, but they did win 5 championships while they were in Minneapolis and they last played in 1960, so were are talking nearly 60 years since the Lakers called Minneapolis home.

However, I guess the gut-punch is the Lakers have been the NBA’s constant over the years, winning championships and getting the greats like Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Kobe, Shaq, etc.

And Minneapolis had to wait until 1989 until getting a new basketball team.  And the early seasons were of disaster.  The first seven seasons Minnesota had 50+ losses (5 of them 60+ losses).  Draft picks didn’t pan out as while the likes of Pooh Richardson and Felton Spencer were quality players, they weren’t cornerstones to build around.  And in the 1992 and 1993 drafts, they hoped that the picks of Christian Laettner and Isaiah “JR” Rider would work.  And, no.  Laettner hated his stint in Minnesota and Rider while talented, was troubled that really lingered all through his career.  Minnesota kept on losing with them.

But they got one right as the Timberwolves drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995.  Minnesota shipped Laettner to Atlanta in Garnett’s first season and Rider to Portland after the season.  They also drafted Ray Allen, but was flipped to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury.  The team hoped the tandem of Garnett & Marbury would be a force for the Wolves for a long time and Tom Gugliotta, who was acquired in a trade, became their third star as Minnesota was a rising team despite being eliminated from the first round in its first two seasons

However, the rise had a speedbump.  Marbury wanted out of Minnesota in the lockout shortened season in 1999.  Reasons have been unclear as some pointed to family, others pointed to not being the star after the Wolves broke the bank for Garnett, others say he wanted what was best for business, and others said he was homesick and wasn’t fond of the Minneapolis area.  Could have been all of the above.  Minnesota got Terrell Brandon, but wasn’t as dynamic as was Marbury.  Minnesota once again made the playoffs but were eliminated.  Eliminations of the first round were a trend in 2000, 01, 02, and 03 despite having 50 wins in 3 of the 4 years, and the Wolves also tragically lost key contributor Malik Sealy who died after the 2000 season.  It stung the team badly and really didn’t advance the franchise in this time.

Sensing they needed to get better, Minnesota traded for Sam Cassell, who had won two world championships with Houston and the controversial Latrell Sprewell.  The move paid dividends and the Wolves had the best record in the Western Conference in 2004.  They made it to the Western Conference Finals where they were bounced by Shaq & Kobe and the Lakers in 6 games.  Many thought the year would be a learning experience.

And nope.  The next year, Minnesota had to deal with unhappy campers such as Cassell and Sprewell, both of whom when unhappy, nobody was happy.  Flip Saunders, who had oversaw the Timberwolves rise, was dismissed and the Wolves failed to make the playoffs.  It would be the start of a 13-year playoff drought and never finished over .500.  Garnett, unhappy with losing, asked for a trade and got it to the Celtics for 5 players including Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, and Theo Ratliff while getting their original first round pick back when the Wolves traded Wally Szczerbiak for Ricky Davis.  Garnett got his ring in Boston when coupled with Wolves draft day pick of Ray Allen a year after the trade and Minnesota finished 22-60.

Despite having players who played well, notably Kevin Love, the Wolves were never able to win a lot.  Ricky Rubio, a top European player, was drafted by the Wolves, but sat out a year because he was unable to get out of his contract with Spain.  So the Wolves had to wait 2 more years to see their pick join them, so it may have also set back the Wolves.

The Wolves traded Kevin Love after the 2014 season to Cleveland and in return, they got Andrew Wigigns.  Minnesota put out their first contending team this past season thanks to a trade to get Chicago star Jimmy Butler to go along with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.  They won 47 games, the highest since their run in 2004, but were bounced in the first round to top seed Houston.  Hopes are high Minnesota’s trend keeps moving upwards.

CURSED MOVE:  Trading Allen for Marbury on draft night in 1996.  While not a complete disaster, Minnesota would have probably benefited from Allen more as Marbury was just an unhappy camper and gone after 3 years.  Had he stayed I think the Wolves would have been a fierce team in the West for years to come.  Allen became one of the best shooters in NBA history while Marbury did achieve success with the Nets and then the Suns, but it just seemed like his wish to be away from Garnett stung him as well.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: There really isn’t one that goes “yep, Minnesota was doomed.”  Maybe it was the Marbury trade.

CURSED RATING: 2/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED):  Minnesota hasn’t been put in too many spots unlike their football brothers to have gut-punch after gut-punch.  Maybe the curse is when the Lakers left.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars

MINNESOTA WILD (0 STANLEY CUPS) & MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (0 STANLEY CUPS, 2 STANLEY CUP APPEARANCES)

I’ll start with the original team in Minnesota, the North Stars.  One of the first expansion groups, the North Stars were about as what you expected as an expansion squad.  Rough years early on, but had a few years where they did well.  Of course, the NHL wasn’t what it is today so really the only way you COULDN’T make a playoff spot then was be the worst team in the NHL, which they had that going for them in the mid-to-late-70’s (missed playoffs in 5 of 6 seasons).  However in the early 80’s the North Stars were VERY good, getting to the conference finals in 1980 and then a Stanley Cup appearance in 1981 with the likes of Neal Broten and Dino Ciccarelli leading the way before bowing out to the Islanders Dynasty.   The North Stars were competitive all through the mid-80’s but nothing like 81 and by the late 80’s the bottom fell out once more.  However, they landed a Hall of Famer in the 1988 draft in Mike Modano.  While they did see the playoffs in the the years following, Minnesota ended up being an under .500 squad that got in because the top 4 from each division would go and the Norris Division was relatively bad enough outside of Chicago and St. Louis (Detroit hadn’t hit Hockeytown stage yet) and the Maple Leafs were brutal.

But they went to another Cup Final in 1991 as a major Cinderella, taking down the heavily favored Blackhawks and Blues and then the defending champion Oilers before bowing to Pittsburgh where the North Stars took a 2-1 lead, but would ultimately give up 19 goals in the last 3 games for the Penguins first Stanley Cup with Lemieux and Jagr.  In 1992 Minnesota tried to do the same thing again, taking a 3-1 series lead on Detroit in the opening round, but Detroit came back, including a 1-0 win as Sergei Fedorov roofed one so fast they had to go back to replay to see if he did and it was confirmed as it was the first use of video replay in the playoffs.

Norm Green became the majority owner of the North Stars in the early 90’s and citing poor play, poor attendance among other things, moved the team to Dallas as he tried to get the North Stars out to Anaheim, but the Ducks became an expansion squad so he moved the North Stars to Dallas, where overall they have enjoyed plenty of success in Big D including a Stanley Cup in 1999.

The NHL granted Minnesota a second go at it with the Wild, who opened play in 2000-2001.  Like other expansion teams, Minnesota started off slow, but had pieces in place, notably Manny Fernandez at goalie and Marian Gaborik to get the team going.  By the third year, the Wild made it to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Ducks who had a Cinderella run in their own right.  However, it has been a struggle since as the Wild would not make it to the postseason 6 of the next 8 years after that and have been mostly first-round casualties since.  Minnesota has not made it to the Western Conference Finals despite having one the most talented rosters the last few years (and what feels like a constant run-in with Chicago in the playoffs).  So the Wild just haven’t gotten over that hump in the playoffs and it may be a time where they got to capitalize on that “window.”

CURSED MOVE:  Not as shrewd with my Wild history or Stars history, but I think when the North Stars left for Dallas made it cursed as Dallas has gotten a lot of success since moving including that Stanley Cup.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: This also sounds odd but I go back to the Fedorov goal in OT when the North Stars were still around.  Everything was going for them.  It makes me wonder had Minnesota won that game if they would have stayed.

CURSED RATING: 3/5 (CURSED).  The Wild haven’t had that gut-punch to the point as it really has come from the old North Stars squads.  But the gut-punch to me has been the Stars and what they’ve done in Dallas.

Minneapolis has had its share of struggles with their teams.  However, the heartbreaks really reside with the Vikings as they’ve come close so many times only to have something unexpected happen.  The Wolves haven’t been overly competitive in their years in the NBA while the Twins are considered small-market and have an inability to keep their players for any long period of time which hurts a major run (though from 02-10 was a nice stretch) but their October woes have been documented in that time.  And the Wild haven’t garnered a lot of playoff success to this point.  It’s pretty cursed as a whole.  The Vikings alone would be the one taking that on the chin mostly.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NFC North Preview-2018

Disclaimer: with all the LeSean McCoy troubles surrounding him, I’m revising my prediction to Buffalo being 6-10 in 2018 as regardless of the situation, the NFL will probably be suspending McCoy at some point.  Back to your regularly scheduled blog post….

The famed NFC Norris Division, the the Black-and-Blue Division, the physical and mean division…

We hear the division being called a lot of things over the years because of the long-standing rivalries the four teams have with each other.  And if you go to any one of the towns, there is disdain for their other three rivals like no other.  And while the NFC North to me isn’t the best division, it may be the fiercest one out of them in 2018 as four teams have plenty of Hope Springs Eternal going on.  However, all four teams have holes thus making it anybody’s division.

For years and even now many point to Green Bay as THE team to beat in that division because of one Aaron Rodgers.  Last year his injury knocked Green Bay out of playoff contention, sent the team to 7-9, a third place finish, and had been swept by the rival Lions for the first time since 1991.  Many view Green Bay with Rodgers as the team to beat in the NFC, but I think with holes on both sides of the ball that the Packers are in trouble, even in their own division.  The Lions despite going 9-7 last year, having back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1994-95, fired Jim Caldwell and hired Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to run things and have made a huge press to build the team on the lines.  They have the potential to be really good.  The Vikings added underrated quarterback Kirk Cousins to the mix to balance out a team with an assortment of good offensive weapons and a defense that is very physical and opportunistic.  And the Bears could be a sleeper in the division pending on how far young quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes them.  So the Packers division?  I don’t think so.  It will be a fight.

Minnesota

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

LAST SEASON: 13-3 (1ST PLACE, DEFEATED NEW ORLEANS IN THE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF, LOST TO PHILADELPHIA IN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Kirk Cousins (FA-Washington), DT-Sheldon Richardson (FA-Seattle), QB-Trevor Siemian (Trade-Denver), WR-Kendall Wright (FA-Chicago), CB-Mike Hughes (Draft-UCF), OT-Brian O’Neill (Draft-Pittsburgh)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Sam Bradford (FA-Arizona) CB-Tramiane Brock (FA-Denver), QB-Case Keenum (FA-Denver), RB-Jerick McKinnon (FA-San Francisco), WR-Jarius Wright (Released-Carolina), QB-Teddy Bridgewater (FA-New York Jets), G-Joe Berger (Retired), DT-Tom Johnson (FA-Seattle), DT-Shamar Stephen (FA-Seattle)

One of the most unexplainable things that happened in the playoffs last year was Minnesota falling on their behinds on defense starting in the second half to New Orleans.  The Vikings defense was rolling and then it just derailed the rest of the way.  Now they are trying to answer it by drafting Mike Hughes at corner and push the scrutinized Trae Waynes for that #2 cornerback spot.  If the secondary solidifies which they can, Minnesota will be a force in the NFC.  The Vikings made one of the bigger splashes in the off-season signing Kirk Cousins from Washington as he will end any quarterback controversy that had been rolling in the Twin Cities the last few years with Sam Bradford and Case Keenum.  Cousins threw for over 4,000 yards last year on a team that didn’t have an embarrassment of riches at receiver with the Redskins.  But he will have Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph.  Also, if Laquon Treadwell gets things going, watch out.  Adding on, Cousins will have Kyle Rudolph especially in the red zone and handing it off to Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook (whose season was cut short by an ACL injury).  Minnesota could have one of the strongest offenses to go with their physical defense and it could also be a memorable year in Minnesota. KEY QUESTION: Can Kirk Cousins guide the Vikings to a Super Bowl?  It’s possible, yes.  I think he is a far more effective QB than what they’ve had the last couple of years.  Minnesota can’t have defensive lapses though in January like they did.

MY PREDICTION: 12-4.  Vikings won’t miss a beat in 2018.  Their schedule is relatively favorable including an early road game in Green Bay which is more of an advantage to the road teams playing there as it doesn’t get bone-chilling.

Matthew Stafford

DETROIT LIONS

LAST SEASON: 9-7 (2ND PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: CB-DeShawn Shead (FA-Seattle), LB-Christian Jones (FA-Chicago), LB-Devon Kennard (FA-New York Giants), G-Kenny Wiggins (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), RB-LeGarrette Blount (FA-Philadelphia), TE-Luke Wilson (FA-Seattle), DT-Sylvester Williams (FA-Tennessee), TE-Levine Toilolo (FA-Atlanta), QB-Matt Cassel (FA-Tennessee), C-Frank Ragnow (Draft-Arkansas), RB-Kerryon Johnson (Draft-Auburn), S-Tracy Walker (Draft-Louisiana)

KEY LOSSES: TE-Eric Ebron (Released-Indianapolis), S-Don Carey (FA-Jacksonville), CB-DJ Hayden (FA-Jacksonville), TE-Darren Fells (FA-Cleveland), Haloti Ngata (FA-Philadelphia), LB-Tahir Whitehead (FA-Oakland), C-Travis Swanson (FA-New York Jets)

If anybody who knows me knows I grew up in the Detroit area and have followed the Lions.  They also know that I never have high hopes for the team especially when Detroit had Barry Sanders and failed to win in January football games.  And I jokingly go in denial whenever the Lions have made the playoffs with Matthew Stafford as the quarterback.  However, Detroit is an interesting squad.  Stafford is a quarterback I think that probably doesn’t get enough respect for what he’s done over the years.  Of course, his big-game/playoff woes have come to the forefront as well.  But he’s still one of the game’s top quarterbacks and one of the toughest ones around.  And he will have an offensive line that has been built and re-committed I think, which could make him very scary and a possible MVP candidate if things go well.  He has weapons of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, TJ Jones, and Kenny Golladay as Detroit’s receiving corps is pretty strong (key note: Tate and Jones both had 1,000+ receiving yards).  Detroit looks to be very committed to the run game with adding LeGarrette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson this off-season to go along with Theo Riddick.  They may once again not have a 1,000 yard rusher but I think somebody will end up with a couple of 100 yard rushing games.  Defensively there were some issues last year against the pass (27th in yards allowed-ouch) which is strange given the Lions pass rush was a solid one with Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel came on strong while the secondary has two pro bowlers in Glover Quin and Darius Slay.  Some of the issue resided on injuries to Tavon Wilson and whoever was the opposite of Slay (Nevin Lawson, though his play improved as the season continued).  The other issue was the linebacking corps was addressed when Detroit signed Devon Kennard and Christian Jones in the off-season.  Kennard had 4.5 sacks in 12 games while Jones registered 90 tackles as they join young linebacker Jarrad Davis to solidify that area.  So I think Detroit on defense will be stronger and the Lions improved on the two key things this off-season, which was the defense and the running game.  It may carry them to their first division title since 1993. KEY QUESTION: Can Detroit’s running game finally take off with Blount there now?  Not the ideal of running backs, but Blount does bring a seasoned veteran Detroit sorely misses in the backfield.  If the Lions have any kind of run game, it will add a dimension to the offense that can make them a top 3 offense in the NFL.

MY PREDICTION: 11-5.  Detroit doesn’t have the easiest of schedules including a stretch of seeing the 49ers, Patriots, and Cowboys early on, but it starts to ease up after their bye week and can make a strong run after.  They have a road trip of being at Arizona and Buffalo late, which could be a blessing if they are in the thick of a playoff push.

Green Bay

GREEN BAY PACKERS:

LAST SEASON: 7-9 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: DE-Muhammad Wilkerson (FA-New York Jets), TE-Jimmy Graham (FA-Seattle), CB-Tramon Williams (FA-Arizona), TE-Marcedes Lewis (FA-Jacksonville), OT-Byron Bell (FA-Dallas), QB-DeShone Kizer (Trade-Cleveland), CB-Jaire Alexander (Draft-Louisville), CB-Josh Jackson (Draft-Iowa), LB-Oren Burks (Draft-Vanderbilt)

KEY LOSSES: S-Morgan Burnett (FA-Pittsburgh), WR-Jeff Janis (FA-Cleveland), TE-Richard Rodgers (FA-Philadelphia), LB-Joe Thomas (FA-Dallas) WR-Jordy Nelson (Released-Oakland), S-Damarious Randall (Trade-Cleveland)

If you’re reading this and about to go out of your mind that I have the Packers 3rd, or at least the Packers behind Detroit, don’t.  Just don’t.  I’ve heard all the comments in response to why I don’t think Green Bay is higher than the Vikings or Lions even with a healthy Rodgers.  Yes, the defense should improve, at least the corners, but remember, Green Bay will still start two rookie corners to begin the year and to think they will just take the league over by storm in 2018, you’re kidding yourself.  Secondly there is still no pass rush on the defense and Clay Matthews isn’t the same guy he was 8 years ago.  It will also put more pressure on the corners if there is no pressure on the QB.  So I still expect the Packers to struggle defensively despite the secondary upgrades and a new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who will be a welcome addition but it may take a year or two before Green Bay’s defense is up to snuff with their NFC North counterparts.  Secondly, there is still problems with the running game, as in not upgraded in the off-season or the draft.  Aaron Rodgers will have a tight end to throw at in Jimmy Graham, who is still a force when used right and will still have the likes of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.  And Rodgers does have a knack of making a WR out of nothing so the passing game will be fine.  But another thing is a concern is that the Packers have an unhappy Rodgers as he wasn’t keen to some of the coaching changes, notably Alex Van Pelt and Edgar Bennett being dismissed.  And it also sounds like he is unhappy Green Bay cut his favorite target for years in Jordy Nelson.  And now talk of Rodgers wanting a contract extension is going on.  Now I have heard arguments “well, Rodgers has every right to complain.”  If he wants to complain, fine.  But don’t air it out to the media like he’s been doing.  Not even Brady or Brees has done that.  And I have a view where if you have a franchise QB who is an unhappy camper like Rodgers, only bad things happen for the franchise.  KEY QUESTION:  Will Rodgers be more of a drop-back passer given his moving around got him injured?  I don’t think it will, but Mike McCarthy may tell Rodgers to cool it.  Whether Rodgers listens to McCarthy or not is another issue in its own right.

MY PREDICTION:  9-7.  I don’t want to hear “Rodgers is great enough Green Bay can’t finish worse than 10 wins!”  How many years have we seen Drew Brees put up numbers galore in New Orleans and the Saints finish at 8-8 or 7-9?  The Packers still have holes, but I do like the upgrades in the secondary.  They aren’t as strong as the others in the NFC in general, not just the North.

Chicago

CHICAGO BEARS 

LAST SEASON: 5-11 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Allen Robinson (FA-Jacksonville), WR-Taylor Gabriel (FA-Atlanta) TE-Trey Burton (FA-Philadelphia), QB-Chase Daniel (FA-New Orleans) OG-Earl Watford (FA-Arizona), LB-Roquan Smith (Draft-Georgia), C-James Daniels (Draft-Iowa), WR-Anthony Miller (Draft-Memphis)

KEY LOSSES: OG-Josh Sitton (FA-Miami), LB-Pernell McPhee (Released-Washington), S-Quentin Demps (Released), LB-Willie Young (Released), LB-Christian Jones (FA-Detroit), K-Cairo Santos (FA-New York Jets), DE-Mitch Unrein (FA-Tampa Bay), C-Andrew DePaola (FA-Oakland), OT-Tom Compton (FA-Minnesota), WR-Cameron Meredith (FA-New Orleans)

Well, the off-season was a simple one for Chicago: give Mitch Trubisky weapons.  They gave a lot of money to former Jags #1 receiver Allen Robinson and Falcons slot receiver Taylor Gabriel while bringing in Eagles tight end Trey Burton.  Trubisky showed flashes of being an NFL QB but had issues in his rookie season.  But he will have one of the best one-two punches in the NFL at running back to give him some help.  Even though it will be his 2nd season, any regression will make Bears fans wonder the high price they paid to get Trubisky in the 2017 draft.  Chicago’s defense is trending up and may have the best defense in the division from that standpoint and they added Roquan Smith at LB, thus giving hope he may be the next great Bears linebacker following Urlacher, Singletary, and Butkus.  If you saw Smith play at Georgia, you have to think Chicago got a steal.  But the Bears offense needs to step up and I’m still not sold on Trubisky at QB though.  He will have to step up in a division that has Rodgers and Stafford in there and it may be tough.  KEY QUESTION: Is Mitch Trubisky the right guy in Chicago?  No, but the Bears will die trying to see if he is.

MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Trubisky I think will still be turnover prone but I think Chicago is taking the right steps to contend.

 

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Aftermath: AFC + NFC Championship Reaction and Analysis

Another Sunday is in the books and we now know exactly what two teams will be participating in the Super Bowl. The AFC Championship game was one for the ages while the NFC Championship’s outcome seemed to be determined halfway through the game. Nonetheless, these two games summed up the entire NFL season thus far: fun and completely unpredictable.

New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Final Score: 24-20, Patriots.

What went right: Lots went right in this game for both teams. Before the game, if you were to tell me Blake Bortles would complete 23 of 36 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown, I wouldn’t believe you. Yes, Bortles played a very solid divisional round, but let’s be honest: lots of his stats came in the fourth quarter and he struggled the majority of the Tennessee game. The Jaguars had a winning formula in place (run the ball and don’t ask Bortles to do too much), but it ended up biting them in the grand scheme. More on that later. Holding the Patriots to 10 points through three quarters is a testament to this Jacksonville defense. Amazing play by AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey.

New England didn’t play that great of a game through three quarters. Jacksonville had the majority of the momentum and it looked like Tom Brady wasn’t going to be able to bring his team back. We all know how that one ended. Saving his best football for the last quarter of the game (two TD passes), Brady showed everyone that his hand is in no way a hindrance to his play. Tom Terrific is still Tom Terrific. Also, Danny Amendola and Stephon Gilmore both stepped up in the fourth quarter after failing to make any plays earlier in the game. Championship teams have championship players that step up in big moments, and this game was the epitome of that.

What went wrong: Instead of keeping the pressure on New England by trying to score some points before the half, the Jaguars elected to take their 14-10 lead into halftime. Jacksonville completely shut down in the fourth quarter. There were downs where the ball could have been snapped later. Play calls were way too predictable. Blake Bortles’ weaknesses were exposed. The defense gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. What I said earlier about championship-caliber players making big plays when they matter, Jacksonville was the opposite. Penalties also killed the team.

For New England, the offense just wasn’t clicking in the first half. Tom Brady was practically on his own once Rob Gronkowski went down due to a concussion. Dion Lewis (34 yards) was the Patriots’ leading rusher. That’s pathetic. That’s about it for what went wrong with the Pats. Everything that went wrong was fixed in the fourth quarter, so there’s not too much to complain about.

Final Thoughts: What a game. Jacksonville will be back here. I’m not sure if it will be with Blake Bortles at quarterback, but they’ll be back. Perhaps with Eli Manning or Alex Smith? New England should also be back, assuming Tom Brady/Bill Belichick return next season. Overall, New England’s championship pedigree came through when the team needed it most. Jacksonville is still developing that trait.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Final Score: 38-7, Eagles.

What went right: Almost everything went right for the Eagles. Nick Foles had one of the best performances of his career (352 yards, 3 TD) on the biggest stage he’s been on so far. The team rushed for over 100 yards. The defense picked off Case Keenum twice. Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Eagles and many things went in their favor.

For the Vikings, about the only thing that went right was the team going up early 7-0 on a Case Keenum touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. That’s that.

What went wrong: Nothing significant to note for the Eagles. Moving on.

Minnesota shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions. Case Keenum was under constant pressure and threw two ugly interceptions, one of which that was returned for a touchdown. A top-two defense in the league gave up 38 points to… Nick Foles. It can’t get much worse than that for a team many picked to get to the Super Bowl when the playoffs began. Props to the Vikings for a great season, but everything collapsed at once in this game. Would the outcome have been any different with someone other than Keenum at QB? I don’t think so.

Final ThoughtsI haven’t been giving the Eagles enough credit this season. I waited for them to lose during the regular season and I’ve been waiting for them to lose this postseason. Nothing can stop this team (although the Patriots will likely be able to come Super Bowl time). I also haven’t given Nick Foles enough credit. After a shaky start in last week’s Divisional Round, he ended the game on fire and took home the W. This week, he was on point the entire game and made throws I had no clue he was capable of making. Minnesota has a lot to figure out QB-wise this offseason and the Eagles should be in the same position next year: competing for the NFC title.

That’s all I’ve got. If you guys have any thoughts, let me know! I’d love to chat with you. Reach out to me on Facebook (The Best Foote Forward) or on Twitter (@TheBestFooteFWD). Thanks for reading!

 

Jordan’s Conference Championship Picks and Analysis

Conference Championship week is here! Jacksonville travels to Foxborough and will face the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in what should be a thrilling matchup. Following the conclusion of that game, we’ll see Philadelphia host Minnesota as the underdogs (underdogs!) in a battle between two backup QB’s that are now NFC Championship competitors. It’s bound to be a fantastic Sunday of football; let’s see who I have slated to win!

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots (Sunday, 1:05 PM ET)

Many of you are going to pick New England rolling over Jacksonville, but not so fast. If Blake Bortles avoids turnovers and makes a couple plays down the stretch like he did last week, Jacksonville can keep this game close. If Bortles makes more than a couple plays and Leonard Fournette gets going, this game will be entertaining. If the aforementioned occur and the defense finds a way to slow down Tom Brady, Jacksonville will emerge victorious. That’s what I’m banking on, especially if the recent news of Tom Brady’s hand injury is legitimate. The drama surrounding the Patriots is going to be amplified immediately following this game, along with questions beginning to come to the surface about Tom Brady’s status for next year. Will the Patriots dynasty over? I’m not sure, but I think it’s going to be put on hold until next season, starting Sunday. I’m going out on a limb and picking the upset.
The Pick: Jaguars 28, Patriots 23
 

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 4:40 PM ET)

Minnesota is simply the better team out of the two playing in this game. Case Keenum is better than Nick Foles. Keenum has equal, if not better weapons at his disposal and has a top-two defense to alleviate some of the pressure when things get intense. Philadelphia’s defense won the game last week. If Foles can’t throw a touchdown against the Falcons, he’s in for a rude awakening against Minnesota. Whether Foles throws 50 times or hands it off 35 times, it’s not going to make a difference. It’ll be close, but the better team will win and advance to Super Bowl 52. Case Keenum vs. Blake Bortles. Who would have predicted that heading into the season? Nobody.
The Pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 24
 
This concludes the Conference Championship edition of Jordan‘s NFL Picks. Have anything different? Reach out to me below and let me know!
 
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